A vibrant approach to life
PRIME – October 2013 Wadden demonstrates the Triangle Pose, one of the multiple postures students assume during the four Kripalu yoga classes the 73-year-old teaches at Heartsong Yoga, the studio her daughter Sheila and son-in-law Tony Magalheaes operate in East Longmeadow. Heartsong Yoga is celebrating its 20th anniversary in November.
PRIME photo by Debbie Gardner
By Debbie Gardner
Beth Wadden inspires students to embrace the youthful benefits of yoga
It was a predictable place to chat with a seasoned yoga instructor; a pair of throw rugs and two back supports on the polished floor of a practice studio. Beth Wadden, clad in black leggings and a tee, her hair still slightly damp from an afternoon's swim, curled up in one, inviting me to take the other.
Nearly 20 years her junior – the longtime East Longmeadow resident and full-time teacher in Enfield, Conn., will turn 74 in November – I couldn't fold up quite as gracefully, or as comfortably, as we settled down to talk. Silently cursing my limited flexibility, I asked her how she came to the exercise practice that so obviously was keeping her young.
Wadden said she remembers having thought to herself when she first tried yoga, "when I retire, I'll do yoga. "But now I do yoga," she added, "And I don't have to retire."
However, becoming a yoga instructor wasn't something she planned to do. It was something, she said, that just grew out of her understanding and appreciation of the exercise practice that captured the attention of her daughter, Sheila Magalhaes, in the early 1990s.
Magalhaes, who is co-director of Heartsong Yoga on North Main Street in East Longmeadow, is celebrating 20 years of teaching yoga practice this year.
Wadden said when Magalhaes first suggested she try the ancient Hindu system of exercise, the idea of practicing yoga was fairly new in the Northeast.
"She began taking Kripalu yoga [and] she was saying to me, 'Do you want to come?'" Wadden said. That first yoga center, located on the second floor of a set of shops, was in Sixteen Acres, she recalled.
Already involved in an exercise class at East Longmeadow's Parks and Recreation Department, Wadden, then in her early 50s, declined.
"I was completely happy with my women's aerobics," she said.
Magalhaes, however, continued to become more involved in yoga, and was soon learning how to teach the practice from her instructor. In 1993 she told Wadden she was going to the Kripalu Center of Yoga & Health in Stockbridge to take a four-week yoga instructor certification course.
"She was going away for a month [and] she had a 5-year-old and a 3-year old [at home]," Wadden said. "I thought, 'What is so important that she would go away for all that time?'"
Wadden decided to visit the Center with her daughter, and while in Stockbridge, took her first yoga class.
"I had this awareness," she remembered. "I realized [the class] was a room full of people being peaceful."
The experience, she said, moved her deeply.
"I had this feeling that even one room of people being peaceful, anywhere in the world, would have a ripple effect," she continued.
Back home, Wadden said she took a few yoga classes, but also continued with the aerobics, which she loved. That is, until an injury sidelined her.
"I had pulled my achilles tendon," Wadden said. "I had been doing both aerobics and yoga, [but] when I did aerobics it hurt more. With yoga, it felt better because it was stretching the muscle more."
Keenly aware that her injury "wasn't going to get better unless I stretched more," Wadden said she gave up the aerobics and turned to the practice of yoga as her main form of exercise.
Wadden said to this day the instructors at Heartsong laughingly refer to the studio as "Heartsong Rehab" because so many students with aches and pains remark how much better they feel after a yoga session.
About that same time Wadden gave up aerobics Magalhaes, who researched how to build a yoga studio to complete a college course while at the Kripalu Center, decided to open her own studio. She secured a second-floor space above a hair salon on Harkness Avenue and started teaching. Wadden became an avid student, and was soon skilled enough that Magalhaes began to ask her to fill in as an instructor.
"I would say, 'I don't know what to do'," adding that she "never even opened my eyes" during the yoga classes she attended.
In the summer of 1995, she relented, and decided to attend the Kripalu Center to take formal yoga teacher training.
"I was 55 when I did my teacher training and I figured they would be a remedial corner for people [age] 55 who didn't know what to do," she said. "It turned out there were 14 people over the age of 50 [in the class] and there was no remedial corner. We all learned together."
By the time the month was over "I knew I could teach," Wadden said. "I called Sheila from Kripalu and said 'Put me on the schedule for the fall.'
"I wanted to teach before I forgot what I had learned," she added.
Magalhaes agreed to bring back a previously cancelled Friday night all-levels Kripalu yoga class for Wadden, which she still teaches. "I call it my happy hour," she said. Magalhaes also added a Sunday night class for her mother.
Eighteen years later, Wadden still teaches those two original classes "and I teach Sunday morning at 9 a.m. and Monday night at 7:30 p.m" at Heartsong's spacious two-studio yoga center, now located on North Main Street.
"When Sheila asked me [to add more classes] I said, 'I already teach Friday night and Sunday night'," Wadden said. "But it's been fun."
That four-class schedule is in addition to her full-time job as a special reading teacher for third and fourth graders at Parkman Elementary School in Enfield, Conn., a career Wadden said she loves. She has taught for 43 years and has no intention of giving up anytime soon.
She also returns to the Kripalu Center every summer to assist in new teacher training. Among the many yoga instructors she has taught are one of her other four children, daughter Beth, who now teaches yoga in Minneapolis, and Magalhaes' husband Tony, co-director of Heartsong Yoga, the studio his wife started 20 years ago.
"I think it's vital for me to stay vibrant," Wadden said of her yoga practice. "I feel it helps me with my teaching at school."